Refugee Week 14-20 June 2021
‘Gunner Gerin: Refugee and Liberator’
How did a Jewish Polish refugee come to be one of the liberators of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945?
A brief mention in a soldier’s war-time diary led Harry Staff, a volunteer researcher with the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, to track down a remarkable story.
Gunner Henry Gerin was formerly Henryk Bochynski. Born 1905 in Poland he arrived in Britain in 1939, according to the lists of the Joint Orthodox Jewish Refugee Committee.
Above: Announcement of Gerin’s British Citizenship in 1947 from the London Gazette
He joined the army in 1940, and was part of the Royal Artillery 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment - Oxfordshire Yeomanry - who took over Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15th 1945. What the soldiers found at the camp was a vision of hell. Nearly 60,000 survivors were living in desperate conditions of starvation and sickness, and around 10,000 unburied bodies of those who had already perished in the barbaric conditions created by the SS running the camp.
Gunner Gerin went into the camp as part of the liberating army, and talked to Polish survivors. The Oxfordshire Yeomanry stayed only a few days to help the relief effort before being moved on, but we know that the experience had a profound and lasting effect on the soldiers involved.
Henry Gerin, listed first as an ‘alien’ was granted British citizenship on 14th April 1947, almost exactly two years on from helping to liberate Bergen-Belsen.
In 1953 Gerin and his wife Szyfra emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a dental technician and Szyfra was a dress designer. Henry died in Florida, USA, in 1988, nearly 50 years after he fled his home to escape the Nazis.
If you have more information about Henryk Bochynski/Henry Gerin we would love to find out more about this refugee-rescuer.